Friday, January 16, 2009

So say we all...

As it's been only two days since Fosco announced his Literacy Challenge 2009, he's a little embarrassed to be talking to you today about a television show. Even so, Fosco cannot contain his excitement over tonight's return of Battlestar Galactica for its final ten episode run. The solutions to several mysteries will be revealed in the second half of Season 4 (or are we calling these new episodes Season 5?), including the identity of the all-important twelfth Cylon.

Now Fosco is no sci-fi nerd; nor does he much care for space operas (he'd rather visit the dentist than watch any of the Star Trek series). But, at the insistence of both Oz and Todd, Fosco gave BSG (that's what the kids call it) a chance and got totally hooked. He essentially watched the entire series with Oz last summer. And now Fosco is about to make a bold statement:

Battlestar Galactica is the best dramatic series of the decade.

A strong claim, I know, but let's talk about it. First of all, Fosco had to use the qualifier "dramatic" because (as he's said before), "Arrested Development" is the best television show of the decade. Even so, Fosco is willing to rank BSG above dramatic series like "The Sopranos" or "Angel" (both shows that Fosco admires greatly). [N.B., Fosco has not yet watched "The Wire." It's on his list.]

What makes BSG so good is not the special effects (though they often aren't terrible) nor the acting (which has a few low points--I'm looking at you, Mr. Bamber). Rather, it's the philosophical sophistication and political relevance of its storylines. "The Sopranos" is philosophically sophisticated too, of course, but these two series explore different territory. While "The Sopranos" is concerned with the emptiness at the center of everyday American life under late capitalism, BSG considers the question of the survival of a democratic society under threat from within and without. What is the best way to govern in a time of emergency? What is the proper relationship between the military and civil society? Who (or what) qualifies as a subject under the rule of law? How is war to be carried out? What is the relationship between civil society and religion? Should one protect a society that is founded on an act of evil? Can that evil ever be remedied? These are the questions that BSG deals with. Some of them may sound a little familiar...

Now, considering that only ten episodes remain in the entire series, it would be silly for Fosco to recommend you start watching the show tonight (although SciFi Channel would love that). However, I do recommend you get the miniseries that started it all and give it a shot.

Hiding a lie in plain sight

This continues Fosco's series of posts on the Bush farewell address.

When you want to slip in a lie about something you didn't do, sometimes it helps to put it in the middle of a list of things you (maybe) did do. Read this one (italics are mine):

Across our country, students are rising to meet higher standards in public schools. A new Medicare prescription drug benefit is bringing peace of mind to seniors and the disabled. Every taxpayer pays lower income taxes. The addicted and suffering are finding new hope through faith-based programs. Vulnerable human life is better protected. Funding for our veterans has nearly doubled. America’s air, water, and lands are measurably cleaner. And the Federal bench includes wise new members like Justice Sam Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.
Now while we could certainly take issue with several of the Bush claims in this paragraph (Sam Alito is "wise"? Maybe on Planet Dick-tron Five.), there is one that is such a gutsy lie that I'm surprised Bush could say it with a straight face. Well, er, without much more of a smirk than the rest of the speech. It may be the most cynical sentence in his entire address (and that's saying something).

Our "air, water, and lands are measurably cleaner"? You motherfucking liar. There is more CO2 and coal soot in our air. There is more arsenic and mercury in our water. And there is more pesticide and coal ash slurry on our land. And that's not all: if you can stand it, you can read the whole sorry story.

And you know what? It was a completely unnecessary lie. There is nothing to gain by saying it. His conservative base couldn't care less about the environment, and the rest of us know he's lying. Honestly, I think he included this lie because he's just a dick.

Rick Warren Loves God. And Himself. Mostly Himself.

Pompous blowhard Pastor Rick Warren (who, as Fosco has noted, is only getting younger) has been laying low lately, hiding from the roaming gangs of gay bullies who want to prevent his Inaugural Invocation. Warren (seen at right, walking on water) has announced his reticence in a statement explaining that he plans to "let his [Inaugural] prayer speak for itself." That's all well and good, but what else of interest does his statement say?

Well, in case you had doubts, Fosco can assure you that Rick Warren's self-esteem remains intact. As he notes in his statement:

his desire is that his prayer and preaching can be pastoral and that he and President-elect Obama can model civility as men of consequence in these difficult times. [emphasis added]
Wow, somebody sure likes himself. A lot. And it certainly does put all those gays of inconsequence in their place.

You know, it's not like he even needed the phrase "as men of consequence" for the sentence to make sense or read well; but, it's like he couldn't resist
  1. equating himself with Obama.
  2. bragging about his own importance.
Oh Rick, doesn't your bible tell you that the meek shall inherit?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The soi-disant "Scholar of Freedom"

After Bush's Farewell Address, Chris Matthews gave the most insightful sustained commentary on Bush that I've seen on television. It's a brutal diagnosis that I wasn't expecting from Matthews. I know he has generally progressive sympathies, but he's not usually quite this blunt in his on-air assessments of the Bush Administration. I think that, after Bush's self-satisfied litany of delusion tonight, Matthews just couldn't stand it anymore. He sounds more than a little disgusted.

Does it still count to "speak truth to power" when the power only has four days left? Regardless, I'm glad to hear it.

An Unintentional Truth

So Bush smirked his way through a farewell address tonight, working hard to remind us what a tool he is. Over the next day or so, I want to look at some of the particularly dreadful passages in his speech. Sometimes, maybe I'll add a line or two to improve comprehension...

For example, I liked the part where Bush came surprisingly close to describing the true nature of Cheney and his posse of neocons. In the quote below, Fosco provides the one missing sentence (in italics):

The battles waged by our troops are part of a broader struggle between two dramatically different systems. Under one, a small band of fanatics demands total obedience to an oppressive ideology, condemns women to subservience, and marks unbelievers for murder. The other system is Islamic theocracy.
Not only is this pretty close to the truth, it's also a pretty funny joke.

[Rimshot.] "Hiyo! I'm here four more days. Tip carefully, drive your waitress."

Roxy Music Vindicated

And you thought Brian Ferry et al. were exaggerating when they said "love is the drug and I need to score." Well, according to this story in the Times, our industrious scientists have essentially isolated the neurochemicals responsible for feelings of love. One of them is oxytocin (calm down, Mr. Limbaugh, I said oxy-tocin). In fact, the possibility of a pharmaceutical intervention (or "love drug") is well within our reach:

Although Dr. Young is not concocting any love potions (he’s looking for drugs to improve the social skills of people with autism and schizophrenia), he said there could soon be drugs that increase people’s urge to fall in love.

“It would be completely unethical to give the drug to someone else,” he said, “but if you’re in a marriage and want to maintain that relationship, you might take a little booster shot yourself every now and then. Even now it’s not such a far-out possibility that you could use drugs in conjunction with marital therapy.”
What's more fascinating about the Times story, however, is how much more interested the author (John Tierney) is in an antidote or vaccine for love. As Tierney notes,
A love vaccine seems simpler and more practical, and already there are some drugs that seem to inhibit people’s romantic impulses.


I doubt many people would want to permanently suppress love, but a temporary vaccine could come in handy.
Especially if you're ever cast in a movie alongside Angelina Jolie.

But seriously, this Tierney guy just won't let his love vaccine go. In another article published in the Times on the same day, Tierney speculates about the potential for a love vaccine, noting that many SSNRI antidepressants already seem to suppress romance and attachment. That's a nasty irony, eh?

How about you, commenters? Are you ready for your chemical romance?

For you nervous flyers...

Introducing the newest international terrorists:

Clearly, Obama needs to take a harder line on Canadian immigration.

UPDATE (4:20 PM PST): On Hardball, Chris Matthews keeps referring to the "bird attack." Fosco knew this was more sinister than just an "accident."

Fine Dinin': The Inaugural Edition

A couple a recent articles about fine dining with an Obama twist (because every news story for the next week has to involve Obama in some way).

In this piece from the NYTimes, Washington restauranteurs consider whether Obama will revive Washington's fine dining scene, after eight years of a president who never once ate at a restaurant within the District. Gone are the Clintonista restaurants like the once popular (and famous) Red Sage. The Bush years, in contrast, have been notable mainly for the popularity of steakhouses (you know corporate lobbyists and their red meat).

Obama, in contrast, knows something about good food. His favorites in Chicago (a first-rate restaurant town, actually--second only to NYC in this country) are not incredibly adventurous (leaning toward Italian and Latin/Mexican), but they are, by all accounts, gastronomically distinguished. As celebrity chef Rick Bayless, chef at Obama's favorite Topolobampo, notes of Obama's culinary attitude:

“They really enjoy sitting around the table exploring the different flavors — they always eat tasting menus,” Mr. Bayless said in an interview. “He’s not one who sort of plunks down and says, ‘I’ll have the beef.’ He asks questions.”
That's good news--both because it's the right way to eat and because it offers a nice metaphor for Obama's openness to experience and new ideas. (Even so, Fosco is still not a fan of supposedly "upscale" Mexican restaurants like Topolobampo after once eating a terribly mediocre meal at the Border Grill.)

In DC, there is already a chef lining up to take Bayless's place as Barack's favorite. That would be wannabe celebrity-chef José Andrés:
José Andrés, one of Washington’s most prodigious restaurateurs, said he was hoping one of his Latin American-influenced establishments — like Café Atlántico or Oyamel — could become Mr. Obama’s Topolobampo away from Topolobampo. He said he had already checked with Mr. Bayless for a sense of Mr. Obama’s dining habits.
Fosco had a meal at Café Atlántico this past summer when he was in DC and he was actually quite disappointed. The dining room was crowded and so loud it was difficult to hear one's dinner companions. The waitstaff was alternately snotty and bored (and not particularly competent). And the food was not that good (especially the Jerk Chicken "Mofongo"). The vaunted mojitos? Well, the Magic Mojito (a "cotton candy deconstruction of the classic mojito") was fun to look at (see below), until the cotton candy melted into the drink; then, it just tasted like a typical mojito.

But hey, I'm sure Obama won't have to worry about the loud dining room nor the bad service. I also suspect the food may be a bit better on any night he eats there. And who knows? He may be able to get a reservation at minibar, which is where the culinary fireworks are anyway...

Speaking of Obama (were we?), the High Priestess of New American Cuisine, Berkeley's own Alice Waters, is preparing an inaugural dinner in DC on Monday. As the HuffPo article notes, Waters is famous for her commitment to "local/organic/seasonal/sustainable food." Her preliminary menu includes
Chesapeake Bay oysters and crostini; rockfish soup and a confit of saffron-spiked tomatoes, though if the fish don't look so great, she'll shift to winter vegetables; shoulder of local lamb with salsa verde, and an apple tart.
Sounds quite lovely, actually. To drink, Waters must momentarily suspend her culinary doctrine:
Yes, she knows the Veuve Cliquot Champagne, made in France and provided by the vineyard for the toast to President-elect Obama, is hardly carbon neutral.

"You try to eat as locally as possible but then you make exceptions" for such long-distance staples as olive oil and good bubbly.
Well, as we all know, Fosco can't disagree with Veuve Clicquot.

The Holy Orgasm

Fosco's art education is a bit sketchy, especially when it comes to Italian sculpture. Even so, how did it take him this many years to encounter the absolutely ravishing face of Bernini's Saint Teresa? Here are a couple of views:

That is just amazingly beautiful.

Of course, Fosco wasn't completely ignorant of the existence of the statue. Seeing the face reminded Fosco that he had read about it once before in the Seminar of Jacques Lacan. As Lacan notes, in his discussion of feminine jouissance:

[I]t's like for Saint Teresa - you need but go to Rome and see the statue by Bernini to immediately understand that she's coming. There's no doubt about it. What is she getting off on? It is clear that the essential testimony of the mystics consists in saying that they experience it, but know nothing of it.
Fosco always thought Lacan was just being silly here; but look at her face! She is indisputably having an orgasm! Don't believe me? Take a look at some of these (mildly NSFW).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Brown Fairy

From a report on the Beeb:

People who drank more than seven cups of instant coffee a day were three times more likely to hallucinate than those who took just one, a study found.
See, this is why Fosco's prefers to get his energy from cocaine.

From the "Finally" File

Heeding calls by, well everyone (including Fosco), the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services has removed young Adolf Hitler Campbell from his parents' custody. In addition, the State has taken little Adolf's younger sisters (that's Joyce Lynn Aryan Nation Campbell and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, if you're keeping track).

According to a report from an NBC News affiliate,

DYFS isn’t talking much about the Campbell’s situation, but the kids being taken away has nothing to do with the names and birthday cake issue in December, according to Sgt. John Harris, Holland Twp. Police in Milford, N.J.
You know who else isn't talking? The parents. However, that's for another reason:
Calls to the children’s parents were met with a message that the line had been temporarily disconnected.
While the tribulations of the rural poor (and the urban poor, for that matter) are never a laughing matter, I think we can make an exception here.

Happy Birthday, Carl Weathers

A happy birthday wish today to "actor" Carl Weathers. Carl Weathers is worth a thought today primarily for his work on "Arrested Development," playing some version of himself. A version of himself that is miserly and opportunistic. It's a great self-skewering, and Weathers deserves kudos for playing it to the hilt.

Here's a great Carl Weathers clip from the show:

This seems like a good time to note today's news on the Arrested Development movie. There appears to be only one obstacle to it at this point: the indecision of George Michael Bluth, Michael Cera. But don't worry, the AD team has their best guy on it--the handsome and talented Jason Bateman. According to Bateman,

"I think you really have to get him on the phone to get his answer about whether he's going to come back and do it or not. I know he's thinking about it, and we're all awaiting some finality to that."

"I do feel bad that people are a little misinformed about what's going on with him," Bateman said. "He's certainly not said that he won't do it. I think he's, you know, Michael is clearly the guy that has come out of 'Arrested Development' with a very, very big plate. And so I think he's trying to really give some responsible thought to what makes sense for him to do with his career.

"The guy's 20 years old and I'm sure he doesn't want to screw up this opportunity, and trying to figure out whether an 'Arrested Development' film would be right for him and his future, I think, again, he's just trying to give responsible time to that decision. And he may or may not have come to a decision. I really can't speak to that."
Of course, we all know the what the responsible decision is here. That is, if Michael Cera doesn't want everyone to hate him forever. Forever!

UPDATE (1/15/08): Ack! Fosco just learned that January 14 is also the birthday of handsome and talented Jason Bateman! It's an AD twofer. Happy Belated, JB.

Fosco's 2009 Literacy Challenge!

One of Fosco's favorite hobbyhorses is to complain about the death of reading in our society (which he does almost once a year). As you know, Fosco is rather fond of books--so much so, that he spends more time with books than he does with people (and that's just how he likes it, thank you). As Rick Moody once wrote (in Garden State:

Books might be better than people
Fosco is inclined to agree with this. Especially if you change "might be" to "are."

But you don't have to go as far as Fosco with your bibliophilia (or misanthropy) to agree that reading is a good thing for society. A literate population is essential for democracy (and probably for any good kind of civilization), and we ignore that fact at our own peril. And at some point, we're going to have to stop pretending that our country can be governed by someone who hasn't read a book in the past decade (I'm looking at you, Governor MooseMunch). Of course, regular reading is not a sufficient condition to lead this country (because apparently GWB claims to read a lot); however, sophisticated reading skill is clearly one of the necessary conditions to do the job well. Yes, Fosco proudly admits that he is an elitist about reading--and he thinks you should be too.

So you can imagine Fosco's cautious optimism about a recent report from the NEA suggesting that fiction reading increased in 2008. According to this study, almost exactly half of American adults engaged in one act of "literary reading" last year. Literary reading means novels, poems, short stories, etc. Unfortunately, the survey did not distinguish between online reading of these genres and traditional print reading (which may account for some of the increase). That's just one of the omissions in the survey, which also did not differentiate between the genres read nor considered the quality of the reading material. But even though we might like to have that kind of information, there is still cause to celebrate the main finding.

It turns out that this increase is significant as compared with literary reading just six years ago, as this table from the NY Times shows:

Although, reading rates still remain in decline as compared to the early 80s and 90s.

Of course, the chair of the NEA (a Bush appointee) credits this increase to the NEA's own efforts, including a community reading program called "The Big Read." The chair
attributed the increase in literary reading to community-based programs like the “Big Read,” Oprah Winfrey’s book club, the huge popularity of book series like “Harry Potter” and Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight,” as well as the individual efforts of teachers, librarians, parents and civic leaders to create “a buzz around literature that’s getting people to read more in whatever medium.”
Again, as much as Fosco would love to make snide jokes about the idea of creating a "buzz around literature," he just can't bring himself to quibble with an increase in reading--even if Oprah and the Bush NEA want to take credit for it.

For a more pessimistic (and more knowledgeable) opinion (an opinion that Fosco might share if he weren't trying to be a more positive person in 2009), you should read this post at Caleb Crain's remarkable blog Steamboats Are Ruining Everything. I've admired for many years Crain's scholarly work and was very pleased to come across Crain's blog recently. In fact, I'd been looking for an opportunity to plug it here at Fosco Lives!...

Which brings us to Fosco's 2009 Literacy Challenge! A challenge to you, the Fosco Lives! reader. Fosco is going to assume that anyone who regularly reads this blog has read a book in the last year, even if it was just Gossip Girl. And so, he would like to encourage you all to try to double your reading this year! That's right: double your reading in 2009. Seriously. You already watch enough TV and you spend plenty of time with your dog/kids/significant other. Do something for your brain this year. And if next year the NEA finds that reading increased again in 2009, Fosco will take credit like a muthaf*cker.

Your Initials Could Kill You (Seriously)

Fosco enjoys making fun of Parade Magazine as much as any other person who prefers to read magazines that don't come free with the Sunday paper (well, except for the Times Magazine--that rocks!). But every once and while, it's actually possible to learn something from Parade. Like, for example, nine tips on how to live a longer life. While some of them are pretty obvious ("6. Have your heart attack in Las Vegas," or "9. Don't cross the street on December 23." Duh!), there is also this surprising titbit:

In one intriguing study, California researchers analyzed death records to find out whether there was any correlation between people's initials and how long they lived. They divided their subjects' initials into positive and negative groups. The good-initial group included ACE, WIN, WOW, and VIP; the bad contained RAT, BUM, SAD, and DUD. Then they matched up initials with lifespans and looked for any correlation. The results were stunning (and also hotly debated): A person's initials actually may influence the time and cause of his or her death. "A symbol as simple as one's initials can add four years to life or subtract three years," the researchers wrote. They speculated that bad initials were irritants, or stressors, which over the course of a person's life can add up and contribute to health problems.
Luckily, the real people behind the Fosco and Oz avatars, as well as Fosco's new friend Anne Jacqueline Hathaway, have initials that spell neutral nonsense words, so they're in the middle. However, Fosco does know some people who will probably be affected:
  • Friend-of-the-blog John Ezekiel Mackey spells JEM. I'm not sure if this is a bad thing or a good thing in terms of longevity, but I do know that it is truly outrageous.
  • Gay activist pal Ted Aquinas Gideonse spells TAG. This is a good thing if we're talking the game, but bad if we're talking the body spray.
  • Corn-syrup-defamer Todd Ulysses Draper spells TUD, which isn't a word, but still sounds yucky regardless.
  • Romantic blogger Joanna Oprah Goddard spells JOG, which is a healthy activity and will no doubt lead to greater longevity.
  • College roommate and blog czar David Shasta Lat spells DSL, which is slower than cable internet access. I think that bodes ill for his life expectancy.
Of course, if something as minor as one's initials produce enough stress to shorten lifespan, we probably should start worrying about other, similarly minor, stressors. Things like itchy socks. Or persistently cawing crows outside one's window. Or television ads. And there is no fucking way that Fosco is ever going to wash his car again. That should be good for like ten extra years.

I'm going to live forever!

Beware of Pumpkin Head

Fosco has mentioned before how he feels about New Yorker fiction. Well, he just finished reading Joyce Carol Oates's most recent story in The New Yorker. It's called "Pumpkin Head" and it is not a little bit upsetting.

Fosco enjoys reading a JCO story once or twice a year, but the last few published in The New Yorker have been pretty tame by her standards. For a while, she seemed to be interested in exploring news stories "ripped from the headlines" from a fictional perspective. In my favorite JCO story, she considered obliquely the whole Jim McGreevey saga from the perspective of the young son of a somewhat similar politician. Last year, she wrote another story about the accidental death of college student via a trash chute (based on a case from New Jersey) from the perspective of the student's mother. Both these stories were not explicitly violent--the small violence in them happened "off-camera" as it were.

So Fosco forgot that JCO can write stories taut with a fine-tuned threat of horrific (often sexual) violence that, when it explodes into the horror that was expected, still does not come as a relief. And that's what she's done in "Pumpkin Head"--a story that you know will end badly from the beginning, but that still disconcerts you when it does end badly. In some ways, it's an adult version of Oates's most famous (and justly so) story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" Both stories take seriously the threat of male sexuality and its ability to strip away safety and normalcy from everyday life. It's some bad mojo, that's for sure.

If you want to read this story, I would suggest that you do that now and then come back to this post. Hint: this next paragraph will include spoilers.

The most impressive part of this story is the last few sentences:

She stepped outside. She wiped at her mouth, which was still bleeding. She would run back into the house and dial 911. She would report an assault. She would summon help. For she required help, badly; she knew that Anton Kruppev would return. Certainly he would return. On the front walk, she stood gazing toward the road—what she could see of the road in the darkness. There were headlights there. An unmoving vehicle. It was very dark, a winter dark had come upon them. She called out, “Hello? Hello? Who is it?” Headlights on the roadway, where his vehicle was parked.
There are a couple of amazing things about this passage. First, there is the use of the verb "would," which introduces a profound uncertainty (that is partially temporal) into the action. "She would run back to the house and dial 911" can be read several ways:
  • she will objectively do this in the future (in a moment).
  • in her head, she is planning to do this (but may not actually do it).
  • she wants to do this, but knows she will not (as in, "I would that it were so").
The uncertainty here is potent, as is the uncertainty produced by the seeming certainty by the phrases "she knew that Anton Kruppev would return. Certainly he would return." The word "certainly" in the second sentence has the paradoxical effect of calling into question her previous assertion that he will return. Consequently, the sum effect of these sentences is to leave the reader unclear as to whether Hadley will actually phone for help and whether Anton will actually return. This is a powerful and fear-inducing effect: is the story over? Or will it continue after the narration stops?

The second amazing thing about this passage is the oddness of the penultimate sentence. Oddly, Hadley suddenly seems to become confused or disoriented, calling out "Hello? Hello? Who is it?" This seems extremely strange as both the narrator and the reader seem to clearly know who is there (after all, in the next sentence, the narrator refers to "his" vehicle, making it clear that Anton is still nearby). Why do the narrator and the reader suddenly break away from Hadley at this point in the story? Why does she ask questions that she should know the answer to (and that the narrator and reader both know)? This is disorienting.

The third amazing thing here is the final sentence (fragment, actually). In response to Hadley's question, we are presented with no actual action (literally, as there is no verb here), but only an image--and a chilling one at that.

Fosco admires greatly these last lines: they do most of the work of creating the lasting creepiness of this story.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

From the Annals of Natural Childbirth

From today's Santa Cruz Sentinel, we have this story about a baby born on the front porch of a mountain cabin near Santa Cruz. The neat(?) part of the story is that the baby was delivered by the baby's father, with help from EMTs on the phone. The Sentinel is pretty pleased with this story, especially as they are offering the recording of the 911 call on their site. Well, not the whole recording, as you can see from this screenshot:

Of course, this makes one wonder what got edited from the recording. Here's Fosco's guess:

[911 Operator]: Can you see the baby's head?
[Baby's Father]: Oh My Fucking God! There is a fucking baby coming out of her vagina! Her vagina! That head is fucking huge! Holy shit! What is happening to her vagina? Jesus Jumpin' Christ! Please, please, please, Lord... make it stop...
At least that's my understanding of how these things usually work.

Even closer...

According to reports today, the Arrested Development movie is closer.

Even better, we have a clue to the plot. From AD creator Mitch Hurwitz:

"We have a story in place. It's basically 'Valkyrie' meets 'Hotel for Dogs.'"
This is going to be so cool.

Democrats in Power: Poetry Relevant Again!

It's a good thing that America elects a Democratic president every decade--even just to give poets a reason to write something! You probably remember the ode to Bill Clinton in 1993 by Maya Angelou (pictured at right with fellow poet Charles Wright). It was called "On the Pulse of Morning," which, as a title, has an appealing rhythm to it. As Fosco recalls, the poem was a grand vision of Speaking Trees, Singing Rivers, and Crying Rocks (incidentally, not unlike several songs by Rush). It also contained these (unfortunate) rhyming couplets:

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
I'm not claiming that poetry is easy, but there must have been a better solution than rhyming "Greek" with "Sheik." Ah, the early nineties... such an innocent time!

Sadly, Oprah has refused to release Ms. Angelou from her underground containment facility to write a poem for Obama's Inauguration. So we must make due with lesser talents. Like the respected poet (and pathetic scholar) David Lehman. At the request of the AP, Mr. Lehman wrote this poem to honor Obama's Inauguration.

Probably the best thing I can say about the poem is that it's not terrible. And there is that good line referring to Obama as "thou still unravish'd bride of quietness." That's surprisingly catchy.

Apparently, the AP has asked a number of poets to do this, so we can look forward to offerings from many of the usual suspects of mediocre public poetry (I'm looking at you, Mr. Pinsky). On the other hand, even a poem about vaginas by Rita Dove will be preferable to that poem read at President Bush's first Inaugural:

Honkytonk U
by T. Keith

My grandmother owned a nightclub on the Arkansas-Oklahoma line
Momma put me on a greyhound, and I went
To stay with her in the summertime
I'd box up those empty long necks and stack'em in the back and make
A hand
Then at night she'd let me sneak out of the kitchen and sit in with the band
Yes, I have sacked some quarterbacks and broke my share of bones along the way
I knew it wouldn't
Last forever, semi-pro always means semi-paid
I started climbin' drillin' rig, I'm oil field trash and
Proud as I can be
Then I took my songs and guitar and sang'em to a man from Tennessee.

I've played every beer joint tavern from New York city out to Pasadena
Every corn dog fair and rodeo
And sold out every basketball arena
I like to get down with my boys in Afghanistan and Baghdad city
I am a red, white and blue blood graduate of Honkytonk U.

Moving stuff.

Is Jesus Too Nice?

Ideas are resilient things; they never die. Even when an idea goes out of style (no matter how deservedly) it will always return at some point in the future. Otherwise, how to explain the popularity of things like leeches or swing dancing? While this may be comforting news to someone like Fosco who loves out-of-style ideas like Baked Alaska and Communism, it also means that all of history's bad ideas are (at most) only a decade or so away from revival.

Even though Fosco (mostly) believes this theory, he wasn't exactly expecting the recent return of Calvinism. (For those of you who are godless heathens, that's theological Calvinism, not illustrational Calivinism.) Theological Calvinism maintains, among other things, that (and Fosco is no theologian here, so please cut me some slack) individual salvation was determined in advance by God and there is nothing that a human being can do to affect their eternal fate. Some are predestined for heaven; some are predestined for hell. And there's nothing anyone can do about (including understanding why God would even do such a thing).

Calvinists arrive at this conclusion through the belief that there is nothing at all redeemable about humans, that they are corrupted through and through. So naturally, there is no way that a human could ever do anything that would result in pleasing God. Ergo, anyone who ends up in heaven must do so contingent on God's unknowable pleasure, rather than as a reward for anything that could be done on earth. It's kind of like a supernatural lottery. Actually, it's exactly like a supernatural lottery. And as religious faiths go, it's not exactly one of the warm and fuzzy ones.

You might think that such a faith would be radically out-of-touch with any but the most annoying of contemporary Christians. Well, you're right. But it seems that there are a lot more of these annoying people than you expected. According to a profile in Sunday's NYTimes Magazine, Calvinism is making a comeback, especially among youth in major urban centers like Seattle. According to the piece, one of the stars of the movement is Mark Driscoll:

Driscoll, who is 38, is on the cutting edge of American pop culture. Yet his message seems radically unfashionable, even un-American: you are not captain of your soul or master of your fate but a depraved worm whose hard work and good deeds will get you nowhere, because God marked you for heaven or condemned you to hell before the beginning of time. Yet a significant number of young people in Seattle — and nationwide — say this is exactly what they want to hear. Calvinism has somehow become cool, and just as startling, this generally bookish creed has fused with a macho ethos.
A macho Calvinism? What the hell would that look like? It's worse than you think:
On that Sunday, Driscoll preached for an hour and 10 minutes — nearly three times longer than most pastors. As hip as he looks, his message brooks no compromise with Seattle’s permissive culture. New members can keep their taste in music, their retro T-shirts and their intimidating facial hair, but they had better abandon their feminism, premarital sex and any “modern” interpretations of the Bible. Driscoll is adamantly not the “weepy worship dude” he associates with liberal and mainstream evangelical churches, “singing prom songs to a Jesus who is presented as a wuss who took a beating and spent a lot of time putting product in his long hair.”
Ummm. Okay. Fosco would just like to point out that, based on all the pictures we have, Jesus' hair is a bit too long for product--you really can't style hair of that length. As if product would have held up in that heat, anyway!

Sick of this guy yet? It gets better:
The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.”
Richard Simmons! (Incidentally, Richard Simmons is another man whose hair is not amenable to product.) You know, I tend to think that if Jesus was worried about comparisons to Richard Simmons, He probably wouldn't have kept forcing his disciples to weigh in while telling everyone to "love your neighbor as yourself, girl!" I think it's also worth pointing out that Richard Simmons has already sent fifteen people to hell (mostly drifters). But seriously, just when you think Christianity can't get any more homophobic, some nuts go and "out" Jesus.

Of course, all of this macho Jesus shit is going to sound just a little familiar to any of you who have studied Victorian culture. Back then, it was called muscular Christianity and it celebrated physical activity and manliness as Christian virtue. It was also an influential movement in the US. As far as Fosco knows, it wasn't a particularly Calvinist thing; however, in the same way that ideas never die, they also endlessly recombine to form stupid new remixes.

Next week's stupid remix: Jews for Jesus. Oh wait, that's real. Ummm. How about compassionate Conservatism? Oh really? That one's real too? Gee. Maybe "lesbians who love being teabagged"? Does that work?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Eating Like Abe

On Inauguration Day, Barry and Michelle will not only attend glittery gala balls all over Washington DC, including one for "wounded warriors" and "families of fallen heroes" (won't that be a jolly holiday?). But even better, the new President (and maybe even his family) gets to eat too--and not just a cold-cut platter (like they served at Bush's first inaugural), but a gourmet sit-down meal. In fact, Fosco has heard that Oprah offered to release her former chef, Art Smith, from her massive underground containment facility to prepare the meal for Obama and his guests; however, this offer was politely declined.

The menu still sounds good though. As you may have heard, the inspiration for Obama's inaugural is Abraham Lincoln. The official theme is something like "Lincoln 2: Die Harder" (honestly, Fosco wasn't paying that much attention). Apparently, the Inaugural Dinner will also participate in the Lincoln theme, with dishes "modeled after foods that Lincoln ate and enjoyed."

Fosco likes this idea quite a bit. He's actually a little interested in historical cooking (recreating historical food preparations, but without all the salmonella and maggots and all). Once Fosco even tried to recreate a Boeuf en Daube described by Virginia Woolf in To the Lighthouse. The results were a tad disappointing, but it was a fun experience.

Unfortunately, the Lincolnism of the Inaugural Dinner is a bit weaker than seems appropriate. As the naughtily-named Jake Tapper reports,

The luncheon's appetizer will be seafood stew in puff pastry -- scallops, shrimp, lobster -- served as a nod to the 16th president's love of stewed and scalloped oysters.

The main course -- duck breast with sour-cherry chutney and herb-roasted pheasant served with molasses sweet potatoes and winter vegetables -- is a nod to the root vegetables and wild game that Mr. Lincoln favored growing up on the frontier in Kentucky and Indiana.

The apple cinnamon sponge cake dessert is a nod to Mr. Lincoln's love of apples and apple cake.
You can find the full menu (with wine pairings) here. I guess the apple cake dessert makes some Lincoln-y sense, but the appetizer is certainly a stretch, no? A seafood stew filled with scallops and lobster is not quite the same thing as scalloped oysters. I guess both dishes share an origin in the sea; but then again, so do salmon and sea lion (and I only want to eat one of those on a bagel). As for basing the main course on Lincoln's childhood dinners of wild game and root vegetables, well it seems a little vague, doesn't it? In a way, this whole menus is a bit like saying: "Lincoln was known to eat food and thus we shall serve food." I suppose we can expect Obama to wear clothes to his Inauguration, much in the way that Lincoln was known to wear clothes.

Fosco was thinking it might be fun to try to cook the Inaugural menu and invite some friends over to celebrate. Luckily, the recipes are provided. It seemed like a good idea, of course, until line one of the first recipe:
6 (1 Lb) Maine lobsters
Hmmm. That's already $108 (plus tax) and we haven't even bought the scallops (twenty of them!) yet. Do you think Fosco could just serve Baloney Canapés?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

From the Annals of Careers That Should Have Been

You may have heard that Lindsay Lohan isn't a big fan of Scarlett Johansson. Which kinda makes sense when you think about it. After all, Scarlett and Lindsay are the two redheads of their Hollywood generation (although Scarlett is now frequently blond; however, we all know what color the carpet is). It's only natural for Lindsay to be jealous: only one redhead may rule Hollywood at any given time and Scarlett is clearly the queen right now. [Not to mention that redheads are naturally temperamental. Fosco should know--he once knew a redheaded model named Dashmere Conutte. She was fiery!]

And if La Lohan is a little bitter about things, who can blame her? As Lindsay noted in a recent interview, she just doesn't get the credit she deserves:

But what hurts me the most is that I work just as hard as any other actress around my age, like Scarlett Johansson, but I just don't get the opportunities that they get because people are so distracted by the mess that I created in my life.
That's an interesting point. It makes you wonder what would actually happen if Lindsay Lohan were as hardworking an actress as Scarlett Johansson? Or even, what if she worked harder? Could Lindsay have occupied Scarlett's place in the world?

Let's do a thought experiment: what would the movie world be like if Lindsay Lohan had gotten Scarlett Johansson's movie roles? Gnarly, huh? Fosco's imagination tells him that this is how the following movies would have been different:
  • Ghost World. Lindsay and Thora Birch play teens who are too ironic for daily life. However, instead of falling for geeky middle-aged record collectors, the girls start dropping E and making out with each other at rave clubs. They engage in sexplay with knives. Their lesbian affair ends after Lindsay's character enters rehab.
  • Lost in Translation. Lindsay plays a neglected young wife visiting Japan with her photographer husband. During her boring days and insomniac nights at a Japanese luxury hotel, she meets a washed up actor played by Bill Murray. Instead of becoming friends and sharing their loneliness, the characters spend a tender moment when Murray drinks sake out of Lohan's vagina.
  • In Good Company. Lindsay plays the daughter of Dennis Quaid's character. When Quaid's character gets a new young boss (Topher Grace), he has to come to terms with his own aging as well as his daughter's romantic interest in that boss. At the end, instead of everyone learning a valuable lesson about humanistic business practices, Lindsay's character takes both her father and his boss home to pull a train.
  • Girl with a Pearl Earring. actually, the Lohan-revised title pretty much says it all: Girl with a Pearl Necklace.
And you know what? There is some alternate universe where these movies already exist. The key is finding that universe.

Your Santa Cruz Weather Update

From that Weather Channel, here is this week's forecast for Santa Cruz:

Getting a little cold at the end of the week. Winter must be coming back. I'm glad I got some new gloves.

I wonder how the weather is elsewhere.

Pictures of 2008: Cats!

Fosco recently realized that, by only blogging for three months last year, he never got to share tons of pictures with you from the rest of the year. So, for the next week or so, Fosco will offer a series of brief posts with some of his favorite pictures from his adventures in 2008. Check out the whole series here.

It's the final installment in Fosco's "Pictures of 2008" series, which will end on a feline note. Here's a photo of Oz trying to make Isis care about a stuffed Chococat:

And here are the KITTENS that Fosco and Oz found living under the front steps of a townhouse in Oz's complex last summer:


Sing it with me, folks: "Oh! Well I never! Was there ever a cat so clever as magical Mr. Mistoffelees!"